opinion: court is no place for amateurs

Appointments to a lay bench are driven by a desire for 'balance', which can have bizarre consequences

There is no role for a lay bench in the administration of justice in the magistrates' courts. Lay magistrates are not necessary in principle and are unsatisfactory in practice. Their duties should be taken over by stipendary magistrates as soon as is practically possible.

If there is a demand from the public for lay involvement in magistrates' courts, then this can be done by appointing lay people to magistrates' court committees.

Lay involvement in schools is established by appointments to the governing body, not by appointing unqualified, unpaid people to act as teachers once a week. Lay involvement in hospitals is established by appointments to the boards of NHS trusts, or as members of community health councils, not by appointing unqualified, unpaid people to act as surgeons once a week.

The stipendary magistracy is superior in practice to the lay bench in every respect (eg, training, professional conduct, method of appointment, motivation).

The "training" given to lay magistrates cannot possibly be equated with that of stipendary magistrates, who have studied for professional examinations. The "training" given to justices of the peace, both initial and refresher, is undemanding and would not enable them to pass any examination of which I am aware. Rather than rely upon constant advice from the court clerks to make up this deficiency, such clerks should themselves become stipendary magistrates.

The lay bench relies upon experience (seniority), in the absence of a professional qualification. This can cause resentment on the part of older people appointed to the bench when they have to work with senior magistrates who may be 10 years younger. Such older junior magistrates have been known to refuse to accept advice or explanation on court matters from younger seniors and to have objected to sitting with chairman younger than themselves.

The criteria for appointment as a stipendary magistrate can be simply aptitude and qualifications. Appointments to the lay bench are driven by a desire to obtain a "balance", to reflect the composition of the local community, which can have bizarre consequences.

Some lay magistrates from particular groups or organisations, have been known to feel that they have been appointed to represent their particular body, and not because of their suitability to discharge the duties of a JP. Any disquiet about the way in which they carry out their duties, or failure to obtain a position within the bench, is regarded by many of them as discrimination against their particular group.

An appointment as a stipendary magistrate can be seen as progression within a chosen profession. Many lay magistrates see their appointment as an opportunity to make useful social contacts. They are keen to use the initials "JP" after their names whenever permissible, and to attend social events for magistrates, ranging from formal dinners to sports matches. Such justices give the impression that their duties involving the administration of justice are coincidental to their appointment as lay magistrates.

The author served as a justice of the peace for almost14 years. This article is based on a submission to the Lord Chancellor's working party on magistrates.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen